Daddy Long Legs (with a script by John Caird) is the story of the young Jerusha Abbot and her mysterious benefactor, whom she calls “Daddy Long Legs.” Jerusha is an orphan living in an asylum until an anonymous person gives her a scholarship to a boarding school. As a condition of the gift, she must write “Daddy Long Legs” a letter once per month and never ask about his identity. Eventually, the benefactor — actually named Jarvis — is intrigued by the plucky young girl and looks for ways to meet her without revealing his identity.
I was glad Caird and Gordon turned this Jean Webster novel into a musical. The accompaniment piano, cello, and guitar were beautiful together. I especially enjoyed the low cello notes to accent the deeper, sadder moments of the show, like when Jerusha (played by Sceri Ivers) feels so sad and lonely at not having Daddy Long Legs as a closer presence in her life, or Jervis (played by Ian Oliver) shows up to her graduation that he had basically paid for.
While I thought the storyline was interesting, at times I felt uncomfortable because Jerusha was unaware who she was writing to, yet Jervis would meet her in person without confessing how much he really knew about her. Jervis controls many aspects of Jerusha’s life, even while giving her opportunities she otherwise would not have. In the end, she overlooks his controlling and jealous nature.
I loved the set (designed by Brad Shelton), which had two long, low bookcases coming to a point in the center upstage and a large desk to the side downstage. Jerusha’s space was on a platform a few feet higher than Jervis’s downstage area, and it helped that director Douglas Hill often placed them onstage simultaneously, yet making them seem far away from each other. I also loved and how they would cross into each other’s spaces periodically and read/dictate the same letter back and forth. It made the show more interesting to have these moments when the actors were right next to each other, reading such intimate lines, while the characters were still miles away from each other.
Rebekah Bugg‘s lighting often lit the backdrop in different colors, almost like a mood ring, to reflect the feeling of the characters. For example, when Jervis got angry and jealous at Jerusha for going off to spend time with another fellow, the backdrop turned a dark red, and when he finally broke the news and apologized in sorrow for deceiving her, the backdrop was a pale blue.
The costumes, by Tonya Christensen, were great and allowed for many quick changes as the characters rarely left the stage. Jerusha had a jacket she took off to leave from the orphanage to college, and she added an egg apron when she arrived at Lockwillow farm. Jervis was described as very tall, so to add to this the costumer not only gave him high heeled boots, but skinny slacks that were just too short for him, making it look like he had gotten too tall for any tailor to match. Additionally, casting him with the very short Ivers made the nickname and references to Daddy Long Legs’s height fit well.
Oliver was fabulous playing Jervis, especially being a freshman at SUU’s theatre program and a young addition to the theatre scene. Oliver he was able to sing powerfully in his role and his acting, though weaker than Ivers’s, was still able to make the show an enjoyable evening. I loved Ivers’s acting. She was able to give the spunk to her character that Jerusha required. She had a beautiful vibrato, and though her voice seemed tired from so much rehearsing, she was able to hold each song with strength and emotion. She made her part look natural and refreshingly honest.
Overall, Daddy Long Legs was great fun to see. While I had difficulties with the relationship dynamic, that was probably because 21st century society has de-romanticized the idea of woman falling for her savior and replaced it with a more practical approach to choosing a partner. However, Daddy Long Legs still holds the nostalgia of a deep romance that can be very enjoyable for many.